Life is another addition to the sci-fi, creature feature/suspense category. The film begins with with a team aboard the International Space Station waiting to receive a probe carrying sediment samples from Mars. The team soon discovers that the samples carry a dormant, single-cell life form, the first life to be discovered outside of Earth. After introducing the cell to different environments, the team’s lead scientist, Hugh (Ariyon Bakare) awakens the cell and begins to nurture it. After accidentally frightening the alien, known as Calvin, enters survival mode and death ensues.
Movie Score: 2.5 out of 5 (Average)
While Life‘s special effects were breathtaking and often horrifying, I believe the movie’s screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (the duo behind the fantastic films Zombieland and Deadpool) missed an opportunity to delve deeper into the dark recesses of humanity. They touched upon certain aspects of our existence: humans feelings of hatred, procreation, love, and unquestioning duty to protect one another. They even rationalized Calvin’s quest to massacre the crew as a survival-of-the-fittest reaction. However, they failed to appropriately address the humans’ survival instinct, leaving a rich topic untouched.
The writers’ first mistake was failing to provide themselves with the right characters to correctly portray life and enter the complex waters of humans’ animalistic survival-instincts. The International Space Station’s crew consisted of a bunch of overly rational, “good people.” CDC doctor, Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), who lived and died by her adherence to the code of her employer, pilot-come-physician, David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) who wanted to remain on the ISS and away from Earth, Sho Muraki (Hiroyuki Sananda) who’s wife just had a baby (that’s all we learn about Sho), the scientist Hugh Darry who loved other creatures (he was a good guy with an optimistic outlook despite being a paraplegic), the Russian who was kind, Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), and Ryan Reynolds’ character Rory Adams who mostly acted like Ryan Reynolds. The writers created no gray characters, people who were willing to put their survival before their crew-mates. I realize there might be one or two “good” people on a crew of six, but lacking at least one selfish guy/gal, who is willing to sacrifice others to escape Calvin, is not only unrealistic, but boring.
Despite eventually realizing they needed to kill Calvin to survive, the crew always seemed to do so without any ethical conundrums. The closest the astronauts came to a dilemma occurred when Calvin first turned hostile in the lab. Despite some self-sacrifices by members of the crew to save the others, I never believed their acts of “love.” Their uniform kindness made them unbelievable as characters because humans are not so pure. We are sinful creatures at heart.
The writers should have created a greedy, evil, sinful character to match Calvin’s ferocity, to overturn all the “goodness” and “humanity” on the International Space Station. For a moment, I thought Sho was going to be that character, but the script never clarified if his attempt to reach the lifeboat was an act of selfishness or stupidity.
In sum, Life failed to showcase humanity’s darkside, the side that executed the Holocaust, the side that commits terrorism on a daily basis, the side that massacred Native Americans at Wounded Knee. Instead, every crew member lived by their code, played nice, and died nice.
This is not to say the movie didn’t have its moments. In actuality, I enjoyed many parts of the film. I truly relished how Reese and Wernick overturned many of the monster genre’s conventions. For example, they didn’t allow the crew’s minority members to die first. Though the movie’s finish wasn’t unexpected, they managed to add a pleasant twist and resist the happy ending trope. Also, some of the crew’s deaths were quite imaginative, and I dug seeing Calvin’s motivation for murder (survival) grow .
By Hagood Grantham
For the trailer, see below: